STIMMING = self stimulation. Examples: hand flapping, rocking, spinning, stacking things or lining things up repetitively, head slapping, repetition of words or phrases. Stimming is almost always a symptom of Autism, and it constitutes one of two diagnostic criteria that define Autism. Having said that, you may be interested to know that subtler forms of stimming are also part of most people's behaviour: tapping a pencil, nail biting, twirling your hair, tapping toes. But these are different in the type, quality and obviousness.
People with autism may 'stim' for all sorts of reasons: because they are feeling uncomfortable, excited, anxious, happy, or overwhelmed. And they may 'stim' for long periods. Stimming is thought to be a tool for self-regulation or self-calming. It is how they manage strong emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, excitement, anticipation, or how they handle overwhelming sensory input (too much noise, heat, light, food, etc). Any of these things can pop up in normal daily living in spite of all good intentions.
Stimming can be useful in managing challenging situations but when it becomes a distraction, or when it creates a social problem or causes physical harm to self or others, it can get in the way of daily life. There is a very negative side to stimming because if this behaviour is constant, it interferes with their ability to interact with others, or to even have them included in typical classroom, community, or employment situations. It can be a big distraction for others but it can also be upsetting or frightening in some cases: pacing the floor, slapping himself/herself in the head. When this happens, autistic children and adults are often marginalized.
To manage these situations, changes can be implemented: for example, smaller classes, quieter settings, clearer expectations. Occupational therapy may be helpful, such as squeezing a stress ball instead of flapping or slapping, and sometimes, medication is helpful.
Stimming is rarely dangerous but can be embarrassing for parents and sibs, disconcerting for teachers, and off-putting for potential friends. Although it may be possible to reduce or redirect stimming, it may be impossible to eliminate it. Parents and caregivers who have difficulty dealing with the realities of Autism in the family may need professional counselling to manage feelings and frustrations.
Early diagnosis is critical because early intervention and management can be life altering. Stay tuned for further discussions. And please share your experiences